An Minimum Viable Product (MVP) has become a well understood route to building a product built on the skin of an oily rag and then getting some early customer feedback. It has become a well-trodden path today for start-ups, or anyone born or compelled to be lean, to get the product out and figure out where the pivots are. Yet there are flaws in the MVP that two alternate approaches, the Sales Ready Product (SRP) and the RAT address.
The Sales Ready Product
What if you have a stronger sense of purpose or have got beyond validation and you want to knock it out of the park? Is there money or room for your crazy plan? At Sequoia, they think that there could be considerable appetite for your more grandiose plans and in fact believe such thinking is a must to be successful and differentiate between why some startups reach market leadership while others never get off the ground. Rather than, or following, the build of an MVP, Sequoia recommend investigating a Sales Ready product (SRP) which is pitched at converting prospects into customers in the moment by nailing the customer value proposition. If you can get here, whilst it will lengthen your initial research and development cycle it will shorten your sales cycle, ramp your revenue and point you towards market leadership. The approach takes a unified engineering, product, design and sales team as that up front learning gained from the sales teams must be verbose and understood by the whole team to help create the product that will nail it, understanding what matters most to the customers and what you can ignore. This is timely input for Moroku as we are in the middle of a couple of product development cycles. Sure we want to bring the customers in early in the cycle to ensure we know and test what they want and validate that the problem we’re trying to solve is the right one and one that they really do want solving. At the same time we know that people are incredibly fickle.
In his Design in Tech Report for 2015, John Maeda revealed that people in the US check their phones about 150 times a day. That calculates out to be about once every 5.6 minutes. With that frequency now growing, people will give up on an app if it takes just a few more milliseconds to load or isn’t right, not because we’re impatient, but because a little friction really adds up when it’s multiplied 150x. If we launch something too early that is not our A game then we risk losing them maybe for ever and certainly our brand will be tainted unless we set the expectations up front very well. It helps us frame not only what the MVP is to get through that initial validation phase but now importantly we can begin framing what your SRP is so we really can target success as well as the ever present failure feedback loop. Long live the SRP!
The Riskiest Assumption Test – The RAT
Inherent in the SRP is the recognition of a real flaw at the heart of the term Minimum Viable Product: it’s not a useful product and in an attempt to build something that is useful the core idea is lost. The core idea of the MVP was to test whether you’ve found a problem worth solving. More often than not the “MVP” ends up much more complex than the quick test it was supposed to be and far too shoddy for a released product. Given this and to ensure that the experiment and scope is explicit, the RAT is being used to replace the MVP.
Riskiest Assumption Test seeks to reduce the risk of getting lost in building something useful and to quickly test your biggest assumption, the core idea upon which your entire business model is predicated. Given that lack of market fit is the top reason why startups fail, this is important. In CB Insight’s research , in more than 42% of cases, startups attempt to solve problems that serve no market need. Most startups that use MVP do not nail the product-market fit and end up building a product that the market didn’t ask for or that customers are not willing to pay for.
Startups and established businesses can use the Riskiest Assumption Test to address their biggest assumptions regarding their business model, market type, users, strategy, technology or other key assumptions to their idea. In this way, businesses can test their idea viability without having to develop the whole product and waste unnecessary time, energy, and money in the process. These ideas are not just relevant for startups. They are relevant for all businesses who want to be accurate and economic. For more on the RAT and how to get started read this great article by Reuben Hall.
Story Driven Design
Another great design concept promoted by Sequoia is the Story Driven Design. Whilst Jira is full of user stories and epics not everyone gets the point. Everyone on the team needs to know of and think of the experience the customer is getting: sales, engineering, product, support and finance. This is the concept of the story map, a design document that shows the big idea of your product experience at a glance, with your customer or user at the centre. A good one will unify the team, secure company-wide support, and help navigate to a successful shipment. It does not explicitly spell out the final design, UI or in-the-weeds UX logic. It does, however, hold the product vision and works as a rubric against which the team can make better and faster decisions. When we embarked on our new savings product we built a story map out to trial it. It’s rough but took just 5 minutes together to get across the core of what we would be doing and worked very well.